December 2007

Wagner - Symphonic Syntheses by Stokowski
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, José Serebrier cond.
Naxos 8.570293
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Naxos has a good thing going in José Serebrier’s traversal of the arrangements and "symphonic syntheses" of Bach, Mussorgsky, and now Wagner, by his mentor Leopold Stokowski. Like Stokowski himself, Serebrier has been able to put his own imprint on the orchestra (in this series, the Bournemouth SO), and he continues to show his respect by not trying to duplicate Stokowski’s own famous recordings. Instead, he approaches the scores afresh, with the insights he has gained in his own long career -- as well as his meaningful association with the Great Man Himself.

The two "symphonic syntheses" here (the term was coined by Charles O’Connell, himself a legendary figure in the recording industry, who produced Stokowski’s Philadelphia recordings for Victor) are those of Tristan und Isolde and Act III of Parsifal. These are framed by the "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla," from Das Rheingold and the two orchestral numbers from Act III of Die Walküre. The "Magic Fire Music" is in Stokowski’s own arrangement, while the Rheingold excerpt and the "Ride of the Valkyries" are his editions of the old Hermann Zumpe arrangements.

The spacious sound (Naxos has come a long way in this respect) conveys the full splendor of these performances, and Serebrier’s annotation is, as always in this series, valuable in its own right. Here he specifies exactly which portions of the respective operas went into the "syntheses," where Stokowski assigned a vocal line to an instrument and where he simply left it out, and various other details on how Stokowski achieved his remarkable sound -- summing up, "Some of it can be explained, but much of it can only be called magic." That about covers what happens here, too.